On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, Americans will elect a new president. He—perhaps one day, she—will take up residence in the White House on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administers the oath of office. During the anticlimactic 77 days between election and inauguration, he will appoint staff and devise strategy so that he is adequately prepared to lead from the moment he ends his oath with George Washington’s words, “So help me, God!”
The 40-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension was only half as long as the election-inauguration period but infinitely more important. Jesus did not become the Commander in Chief of America for four years. He became Lord of the universe for eternity. But according to Darrell Bock, “Most [New Testament] books speak of Jesus’s resurrection or simply speak of him being exalted to the side of God( Eph. 1:19-22; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:3, 4; 6:19-20; 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:21-22.).” Luke along records the 40-day period. He narrates the details of the ascension. Here’s what he writes:
After he said this, Jesus was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
After he said this refers specifically to the commission Jesus gave his disciples to be “witnesses” to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But more broadly, it refers to what he taught them about “the kingdom of God (1:3). Like the president-elect between election and inauguration, Jesus used the 40 days between resurrection and ascension to devise strategy (“kingdom”) and appoint staff (“witnesses”).
And when he was done, he was “taken up before their very eyes.” Where? “Into heaven.” In Acts 2:33, Peter—in his first sermon—interprets the ascension as an act of coronation, describing it as being “exalted to the right hand of God.” But just as the purpose of inauguration is for the president to actually lead the country, so the purpose of ascension and enthronement is for Jesus to exercise royal authority. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which we will study when we come to Acts 2, was Jesus’ first act as king. He “has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (2:33).
The thing about presidential inaugurations is that, for all the hoopla, they end in disappointment four years later. The candidate made promises he could not keep as president. The Leader of the Free World turns out to be human, all too human. Not so Jesus! His coronation is but the beginning of a successful administration. And for those of us who await his return, the best is yet to come.